Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Unknown Thieves

I was looking at the guidelines given in the Expert Rulebook for "levels beyond those listed," which offers some advices to referees looking to expand the rules to cover levels 15 and up. In the section describing thieves, it says:
It will be noted that thieves have high chances of success in their special abilities when conditions are favorable for that action. Thieves will therefore gain new abilities requiring greater skill and danger. These will include the ability to climb overhangs, upside down, ventriloquism, powers of distraction, and the ability to mimic voices.
Somehow, I never noticed that passage before or, if I did, I don't remember reading it. I'm not sure what I think about their possible inclusion or how their inclusion might have affected my estimation of the thief's place in D&D. Still, this is the first time I've seen a suggestion to expand the thief's skills in old school D&D beyond the thief-acrobat in Unearthed Arcana, but I do find it very intriguing, if only because it reveals avenues for further developing the class that are consonant with its origins rather than pushing it toward the ninja death commando of later editions.

13 comments:

  1. I remember reading that passage in the Cook Expert set, and being disappointed when I finally looked at the Mentzer Companion rules years later.

    It would have been an interesting take on the thief! I regret that those abilities were not introduced in the Companion rules.

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  2. wow-- this made me realize I was still waiting for this-- I guess it's never going to happen?

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  3. I recently read that same section and must have glossed over it as well.

    Very interesting stuff.

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  4. Um, yeah. That's why I tried to incorporate them in my B/X Companion project. See my post from earlier today (including design notes):

    http://bxblackrazor.blogspot.com/2009/07/bx-companion-master-thief.html

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  5. I must admit that at levels 16+ those always sounded like pretty underwhelming abilities, to me. Just "hiding" seems more potent than any of those.

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  6. Heh...I remember this passage and was eagerly awaiting the Companion (for the thief abilities, among other things), until my older cousin introduced me to AD&D (and I didn't pick up B/X again until after UA - I never even looked at the Mentzer Basic or Expert until very recently).

    Once again, we're looking at an interesting "what if" from the old days. Does anyone know whether Steve Marsh or Dave Cook have been asked about this topic over at their respective Dragonsfoot Q&A threads?

    Verification Word: ponfr (insert Star Trek joke here).

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  7. Didn't they introduce something similar for high-level thieves in the Dark Sun setting? I remember something about 14 thief-specific skills including bribery, information gathering and suchlike.

    Nothing uniquely high level in flavour though, just broader options...

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  8. Interesting, I just posted about this on Dragonsfoot not a week ago. I find it interesting as well (thread is "B/X Levels to 36," or something similar).

    It seems a lot of great ideas fell by the wayside in later editions. I'm firmly convinced this is why human fighters became the redheaded stepchildren of D&D by second edition. In OD&D, they were the only ones who could apply Dexterity to combat. This had gone away by 1e AD&D but they still got to attack multiple times against low HD creatures. By 2e all they got was weapon specialization, which was a very small benefit compared to clerics, magic users, and thieves.

    Sorry, just some general ponderings.

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  9. Yeah, this passage comes up a lot in discussions of B/X, as it's a direction which went unexplored in the BECMI series. It's certainly intriguing.

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  10. Didn't Cook mention in an interview here that the companion book would have taken the game more toward AD&D?

    In any case, I never liked the suggested abilities. Some of them seemed like things that either would be covered with existing skills or should be integrated at lower levels. Why, for instance, should projecting one's voice only happen beyond 14th level? I know the root of this is that if you want to take characters to 36th level you have to give them interesting things along the way, but the way they suggested new thief abilities occurring was almost like at some level the thief starts a new class. However, I don't think most people bother with such high levels anyway.

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  11. By the way, James, there's a ninja death commando standing behind you.

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  12. Didn't they introduce something similar for high-level thieves in the Dark Sun setting?

    Was it Dark Sun or was it The Complete Thief? It was one of those 2nd edition products. As I recall, it doubled the list of skills for rogues and included some really interesting ones like minor illusions and detecting magic. I remember ventriloquism was on there as as well.

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  13. I have often wished that someone woudl uncover a lost copy of the Moldvay/Cook Companion Rules. :)

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